RANGERS FANS DEVASTATED AS STEVEN GERRARD QUITS IBROX

Above: Steven Gerrard urges his team on in a match at Ibrox Stadium. Picture by Bill Heaney

By Bill Heaney

Rangers fans will be devastated and Celtic supporters everywhere delighted that Aston Villa have appointed Steven Gerrard as their manager on a three-and-a-half-year deal, ending his three-year reign at Rangers.

The former Liverpool captain, 41, pictured right, leaves the Scottish champions Ibrox Stadium  having guided them to a first league title in 10 years last season.

Gerrard replaces Dean Smith, who was sacked by Villa on Sunday after a run of five successive defeats and joins a pool of star players, including Scotland captain John McGinn, grandson of Dumbarton man Jack McGinn, a former Celtic chairman, at the Birmingham club.

Aston Villa are 16th in the Premier League at present, just two points above the relegation zone which Gerrard is expected to extricate them from, despite them having just sold their top player Jack Grealish to Manchester City for £100 million.

“Aston Villa is a club with a rich history and tradition in English football and I am immensely proud to become its new head coach,” said Gerrard.

“In my conversations with [co-owners] Nassef [Sawiris], Wes [Edens] and the rest of the board, it was apparent how ambitious their plans are for the club and I am looking forward to helping them achieve their aims.”

Gerrard took his first steps in senior management with Scottish Premiership side Rangers in 2018, and leaves with them four points clear of rivals Celtic at the top of the table.

BBC Sport Scotland understands Villa have paid Rangers £4.5m in compensation to Aston Villa.

“Steven and his backroom staff have ensured that the club is undoubtedly in a better place today than it was three-and-a-half years ago,” said Rangers sporting director Ross Wilson.

“We have shared a desire to move Rangers forward, to modernise our infrastructure and to make the club win again.

“There have been so many areas that we have moved forward, and there is still so much to be done, but I can’t stress enough how important it has been to have with us a first-team manager who shared a drive and desire to set standards and move the whole football operation forward.”

Gerrard played 710 times for Liverpool, winning nine trophies, and spent a season at MLS side LA Galaxy in 2015 before retiring as a player the following year.

He coached at Liverpool’s youth academy before managing the under-18 team during the 2017-18 season.

Gerrard is England’s fourth-most capped player with 114 international appearances, in which he scored 21 goals.

Gerrard joins a Villa side who have not collected a Premier League point since beating Manchester United on 25 September.

His first match in charge will be at home to Brighton after the international break, with matches against top four sides Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea among those to follow before the end of 2021.

He is well known to Villa chief executive Christian Purslow, who was previously managing director at Liverpool.

Under Dean Smith, Villa finished 11th in the Premier League last season but following talisman Jack Grealish’s move to Manchester City, results started to slip.

The club have picked up just 10 points from the first 11 games of the season – and are experiencing their worst losing run since January to February 2017 in the Championship.

Injuries to newcomers Danny Ings, a former Liverpool striker, and Leon Bailey, brought in following Grealish’s departure, have not helped Villa’s cause, with club record signing Emiliano Buendia also failing to impress since his arrival.

“Since moving into coaching after his illustrious playing career, Steven began by managing and developing top young players in the Liverpool FC Academy, which is experience we value highly at Aston Villa,” said Purslow.

“He then took the brave decision to test himself in the intense and high pressured environment of the Scottish Old Firm. His subsequent achievement in winning the Premiership title with Glasgow Rangers really caught our eye as did his experience in Europe.

“It has been very clear in our discussions with him that Steven’s coaching ambitions, philosophy and values entirely match those of Aston Villa.”

‘A special place in my heart’ – farewell to Rangers

Graphic of Steven Gerrard's stats as Rangers manager
Steven Gerrard’s stats as Rangers manager

BBC Scotland reports that Gerrard joined Rangers in May 2018, signing an initial four-year deal before agreeing a new contract until 2024 the following year.

In his first season in charge, he guided Rangers to their first win over Celtic since 2012, ending the league campaign nine points behind their city rivals, and they also finished second in the 2019-20 season.

The following season saw Gerrard win his first piece of silverware as a manager, Rangers going unbeaten as they lifted the Scottish title for the 55th time, finishing 25 points clear of Celtic.

They also matched Celtic’s 107-year-old clean-sheet record, and won back-to-back Old Firm derbies.

Following that title win, Gerrard said Rangers was a club that had “grabbed” him.

Speaking after his departure, Gerrard said: “I would like to express my sincere gratitude to everybody associated with Glasgow Rangers for giving me the opportunity to manage such an iconic football club.

“Helping them secure a record-breaking 55th league title will always hold a special place in my heart. I would like to wish the players, staff and supporters the very best for the future.”

Rangers chairman Douglas Park said: “I would firstly like to put on record my thanks to Steven for his outstanding efforts over the last three and a half years at Rangers.

“He has provided us all with some unforgettable moments, not least his delivery of the Scottish Premiership title back to Ibrox last season having not lost a match in the entire league campaign.

“In European competition, he has restored the good name and credibility of our club on the continent and leaves us in a very healthy position on the pitch.”

Analysis

Tom English, BBC Scotland

Gerrard was given money and, just as importantly, time by a hugely supportive board. One trophy – however momentous – is not a great legacy, no matter the 10-in-a-row-busting quality of it. There are nuances to this, though.

Any fair assessment of his time in Glasgow can’t begin and end with what he contributed to the trophy cabinet. That’s the bottom line for sure. That’s what history will record.

In three seasons, he won one piece of silverware at a cost, in transfer fees, of many millions and rapidly rising operating losses. In one season, St Johnstone’s Callum Davidson won two trophies on a budget of washers. There’s no getting away from that.

To assess Gerrard fairly you have to look at the horror show he inherited.

They were ridiculed endlessly by their Glasgow neighbours. Gerrard had to rebuild his squad and did it with the munificence of his board who pushed the boat out for him to the extent that were prepared to weather heavy losses along the way.

Together, they got there. Not to a final destination, but out of the slapstick years when they were Celtic’s plaything.

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